The wildlife on our waterways can be elusive and hard to spot but knowing what to look for is a good start! Try going for walks at different times of day, particularly early in the morning or late in the evening when the more elusive nocturnal animals are active.

Irish Otters: Discover and Conserve

Otters have unexpectedly become social media stars in recent years, as though we’ve all suddenly realised how cute they are! In Irish the word for otter is “madra uisce” or water dog, and though they do look a bit dog-like, they’re more closely related to badgers and weasels.

It may come as a surprise that otters are both common and widespread in Ireland, even around city rivers. They are shy and nocturnal and typically seen at dawn or dusk, though if you keep an eye out you may also see them swimming in rivers or scrambling around the shore, particularly under bridges. I was lucky enough to see otters gliding in the Suir blueway recently, diving for fish and showing their distinctive pointy tails which are almost as long as their bodies.

Otters live in “holts” which are underground dens usually found around rocks or fallen trees, close to the water’s edge. Otters even create their own water slides or “chutes” to slide between their holts and the river! They are carnivores and mainly eat fish but will also forage around the riverbanks for frogs, waterbirds and small mammals.

Did you know that the collective noun for otters is a “bevy”?

To see an otter is a thrill and it’s also a very good sign as they are apex predators and indicators of a healthy ecosystem. If you have seen an otter recently the National Biodiversity Data Centre wants to know about it. They’re running a national survey of our otter population and we’re all encouraged to learn more about otters and submit sightings here.

Kingfishers: Nature’s Vibrant River Jewel

The iconic kingfisher, though widespread, is usually only seen as a flash of orange and electric blue streaking along the surface of the river. Amazingly, the “blue” seeming feathers of the kingfisher are not actually blue at all but brown! If that’s as unbelievable to you as it is to me, read all about it here!

These expert fishermen who need to eat their own bodyweight in fish every day, were traditionally seen as omens of peace and prosperity. The Greek name for the kingfisher is halcyon leading to the term “halcyon days”, days of peace and happiness. It’s also said that kingfishers can only be seen by the righteous, so count yourself very lucky if you catch a glimpse of one!

Other species you’re more likely to see around our rivers are swans, ducks, herons, egrets, moorhens, dippers and grey wagtails.

Atlantic Salmon: Ireland’s Migratory Marvel at Risk

Eel, brown trout, perch and lamprey are common in our rivers. Our Atlantic salmon, renowned for their extraordinary winter migrations to the coast of Greenland, return to Ireland in the autumn to spawn in their native rivers. Salmon need clean, well-oxygenated water and a clear passage up the river to their spawning grounds. Sadly, this emblematic species is now classed as “vulnerable” due to habitat loss, overfishing and barriers to migration.

Dragonflies: Nature’s Expert Flyers by Ireland’s Rivers

Dragonflies and damselflies may be the most recognisable and most spectacular of our winged insects. There are 30 dragon and damselfly species in Ireland. They’re on the wing during the summer and always near water. They’re another good indicator of a healthy river as they need clean water.

The next time you’re near a river keep an out for dragonflies, they’re worth a close look! They’ve been around for 320 million years – long before dinosaurs – and have evolved as the perfect flying machines and one of the world’s most successful predators. Each of their wings can move independently, meaning they are totally unlimited in flight, being able to hover, fly backwards and execute the kinds of aerial manoeuvres that Top Gun pilots could only dream of. Robotics engineers even study dragonflies in order to create the most advanced drones!